In this, the third of our articles, we shall have to look into God’s purposes towards peoples and nations. In the first, we saw that the 0.T. atonement was replaced by the better circumstances of Christ’s sacrifice, whereby all nations were made clean and every living human being had the individual right to come directly to God and ask for forgiveness. No longer did Israelhold the keys to the door of salvation.
In the second article we asked a lot of questions about the Temple and the City of Jerusalem and put forward the plea that we should follow our Saviour’ s advice, and interpret everything we read in the Scriptures according to the ‘spiritual rule’. Taken to its logical conclusion, it means that the only Temple of any significance to the believer today is the spiritual temple of 1 Corinthians & Ephesians. And the only City of any significance is the ‘Jerusalem above’ of Galatians and Revelation. And concerning the coming of Antichrist, we may confidently expect him (and all his lesser antichrists) to take their place amongst the members of Christ’s body, not in a rebuilt Temple or Great Synagogue in Jerusalem.
And now in this article we must take up where we left off, and ask the question, if the Temple and the City are to be spiritually understood, then what about the nation itself? Is there any significance in the return of the Jews to Palestine, and their becoming a nation again in 1948? Or should we rather be turning our attentions elsewhere? We believe that the N.T. Scriptures show a clear path to follow, and our intention is now to express these Scriptures in logical sequence to show the way.
When Jesus came to the Jewish nation, He presented them with the exciting truths of the Kingdom of God. If Israel as a nation would repent then they could become the instrument in God’s hands to lead the nations of the world into the Kingdom. What happened? It is clear that the nation did not repent. Instead they crucified their King. But the King asked His Father for their forgiveness, and so the message of the Kingdom went out again after Pentecost, and the Apostles were given the task of preaching repentance. The 12 went to the nation of Israel (mainly the 2 tribes) and Paul was commissioned to go to the Gentiles. We all know the result. Many from among the nations accepted the message of salvation, but the Jews throughout the Roman world created more and more havoc until at AD 70 their end came. They were deported into other lands, and the land of Israel became emptied of those who once were God’s chosen people.
If the foregoing represents our own summary of the history, then the following references may add their own authenticity to what has been said.
Matt.23:32-39. Jesus said, “You fill up the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you offspring of vipers, how can you escape the judgment of Gehenna? – – Upon this generation shall come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from Abel to Zachariah – – whom you slew between the Temple and the altar. – – O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you, how often would I have gathered your children as a hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings, but you would not. Behold your house is left unto you desolate. Henceforth you shall by no means see me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.'”
Matt.21:43 “Therefore I say unto you, the Kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.”
1 Thess.2:15-16 “The Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us, and they do not~ please God, and they are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always, for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”
Mark 11:14 “Jesus went up to the fig tree and found no fruit on it, and He said, ‘Let no one eat fruit of you hereafter unto the age.”‘ (The fig tree was one of the symbols of the nation of Israel.)
Matt.3:9 John the Baptist said, “The axe is already laid at the roots of the tree. Every tree that brings not forth good fruit is hewn down.”(Notice that John said EVERY tree, not just Israel.)
What can we learn from these references? First of all, it has been shown with certainty that the Kingdom of God has been taken from Israel and will be given to ‘a nation bringing forth the fruits of it.’ Which nation will this be? The fig tree was cut down ‘unto the age’ which was the way of saying ‘right up to the time of the manifestation of God’s kingdom.’ The ‘age to come’ was always the Kingdom Age in prophecy.
But again it must be emphasised that if Israel lost its entitlement to the Kingdom, so does every other nation that doesn’t bring forth the fruits of it. And here we come to the crunch question. Has any nation ever produced such fruit? And of even greater importance, CAN any nation EVER produce such fruit? We believe that the answer is negative. After some 6,000 years of human history, no such nation has ever shown itself righteous to the degree that Jesus was looking for, and never will do so.
But was God espousing a lost cause? Of course not! That is not the way of our God. Let us now see a few more Scriptures that speak about God’s expectation for the future, and the nation of His choice.
Isa.26:2 “Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation, which keeps the truth, may enter in.” So there will be a righteous nation, for God has spoken, and His word will not be broken.
Isa.61:3 “To appoint to those in Zion who mourn to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they might be called TREES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.” Although John the Baptist inveighed against every tree that bore not good fruit, here we have the assurance that ONE NATION will be called the TREES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and what is more, they will be of the Lord’s own planting. Which is this nation? Is it the Jews in days to come? Is it all twelve tribes, the Jews plus the other ten, scattered amongst the nations? The Lord calls His nation by its capital city, Zion so surely it must be something to do with Israel. It is not that simple. Let us see.
Isa.65:1-2 “I am sought of those who asked not for me; I am found of those who sought me not. I said, ‘Behold me, behold me’, to a NATION that was not called by my name. I have spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people which walk in a way that is not good.” Paul quoted this in Romans 10:20-21, saying that Isaiah was ‘very bold’ in his prophecy. Why? Because he spoke in earlier days of God’s work, and it concerned the Gentiles. Paul said (Rom.1O:12-13) “There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” This was the lesson we learned from the study on Atonement, and it keeps on re-appearing, and must do so, because it is and always has been the keystone to the calling of God by faith.
Which is the “Nation not called by my name”? Paul showed in Romans that it is not a single nation, because he referred to the ‘Gentiles’, in other words ALL the nations. In Galatians 3:8-9 Paul says, “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would JUSTIFY THE NATIONS BY FAITH, preached the Gospel to Abraham saying, ‘In you shall all nations be blessed’. So then, those who are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” Are we to assume that ALL NATIONS represent God’s special nation, the one that He calls ‘Israel’, and ‘Zion’? No, we have not as yet obtained the answer to this question.
We must go back to the words of’our Lord, in Matt.21:31 He said, “The tax gatherers and harlots will go into the kingdom before you.” Jesus was speaking to certain Jewish leaders. They were ‘contrary to all men’. But amongst the nation of Israel at that time there WERE many common folk who believed, and it was about these that Jesus spoke favourably. THEY would go into the Kingdom, so they must be part of RIGHTEOUS NATION.
The truth is slowly emerging. The Righteous Nation is NO SINGLE NATION that has ever existed on this earth, but is made up from people, individuals, out of ALL nations. Let us go back to Isaiah again. 60:21-22. “Your people shall ALL be righteous; they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified. A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one A STRONG NATION. I the Lord will hasten it in its time.”
We sense it would be a good idea to call this nation by a SPECIAL NAME. In this way we can refer to it, and cause it to be distinct from all other nations upon earth, past, present or future. It would be appropriate to call it THE ELECT NATION.When God has completed His special work, and has found all the members of His ELECT NATION, then Jesus tells us that“He will gather together His elect from the four winds.” This figure of speech enables us to see that it will be a gathering of INDIVIDUALS from all parts of the earth. Beginning, perhaps, with Abel, these individuals will be gathered by the Lord from amongst those who have lived in the past and those who are still alive when the fullness comes.
“Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also; seeing that it is one God who shall justify the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith.” Paul, in Romans 3:29-30. As the hymn-writer put it, “Elect from every nation, Yet one o’er all the earth.”
When will the Lord gather His elect? Isaiah speaks of this time, in 66:7-14. “Before she travailed she brought forth; before her pain came she was delivered of a MANCHILD. Who has heard of such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in ONE DAY? Or shall a NATION be born AT ONCE? For as soon asZion travailed, she brought forth her children.- – – Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her.- -I will extend peace to her like a river, and the GLORY OF THE GENTILES like a flowing stream.” Hence, the MANCHILD is the ELECT NATION and within it will be found the GLORY OF THE GENTILES, as well as the faithful fromIsrael. John the Apostle, in the 12th of Revelation, speaks of this MANCHILD, and having now found the key to its understanding, we can be all the more confident WHY Satan stands before the woman to DEVOUR the child as soon as it is born. But .Satan does not obtain that for which he waited. The manchild, the elect nation, is CAUGHT UP TO GOD AND TO HIS THRONE, from which he is to take his position of government of this world in the Age of the Kingdom, Christ Himself being the Head of the Elect Nation.
We believe that these truths are transcendent, and they epitomise the whole truth of the Bible. God has always looked for men and women of FAITH, and this is why He took one man as a particular picture, Abraham, and called him “The Father of Faith to all those who believe.” As Paul said in Gal.3:7, “The ones who are of faith, THESE are the children of Abraham.” And later in the same chapter, (3:28-29) “There is neither Jew nor Greek, bond or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ, and if you be Christ’s YOU ARE ABRAHAM’S SEED, and heirs according to the promise.”
God’s ELECT NATION is made up from individuals, and these individuals are selected from all nations, all races, all tongues, and all peoples, and equally true is the fact that they come from all social classes, and of either sex. “In Christ”, (an expression which defines what is meant by the ELECT NATION) ALL such distinctions are made void. No one is able to stand higher by virtue of birth, age, social position, skin colour, national heritage, or sex. But all have one thing in common, they are members of the ELECT NATION by FAITH. As Paul said in Romans 9:8 “Those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned for a seed.” The text shows that it was by faith that the promise was made by God to those who were faithful. Hence, if you be Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise, as we read in Gal.3.
In one sense, we have now completed this study. But there is an aspect of the study that needs further attention. It is not additional to the contents of this study, but may be looked upon as the question that might arise by those who still prefer to think of Israel in its NATIONAL aspect, believing that God still has a purpose to perform to the nation IN THE FLESH. We believe that it is all a matter of definition, and that the N.T. clearly defines what we should believe today, and therefore we shall try to elaborate on this theme, hoping thereby to answer some questions along the way.
In our last paper, entitled “Which Temple” we said that we had been reading a delightful book by an Arab Christian, one Elias Chacour. And in the text of our study we had occasion to point out that although IN THE FLESH he was a descendant of Ishmael, by Hagar, yet “in Christ” God sees him today as a son of Abraham by faith, and heir according to the promise. On the other hand, there are Jews alive today, who no doubt could bring forward convincing evidence of their pedigree, and yet whilst still not believing in Jesus for salvation, must be deemed as “children of Hagar” by the Lord. So we see that one must be very careful to define what is meant. When FAITH is the subject, then certain modes of expression are used in the Bible. “Sons of Abraham” means those who are in possession of the same type of faith that Abraham possessed. “Israel” means those who have laid on one side the fleshly nature of the “worm” Jacob, and have by faith become “princes with God”. And so on. This is the special language of faith, and it applies to all those who truly believe in Christ.
But in the Bible these same words are used to describe the more fleshly aspects of Abraham and Israel. However, we believe that all those who are true sons of faith will be able to see which is meant in any context.
John the Baptist has already been quoted. In his address to the Pharisees (Matt.3:9) he is reported as saying, “Say not within yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’, because God is able to raise up children to Abraham out of these stones!” No doubt these words were grievously offensive to those who trusted in their ethnic origin, their ancestry, and their genealogy as being equivalent to their acceptability before God. But later on in the Gospels we find a similar confrontation occurring, this time between the Pharisees and our Lord. (See John 8:37-44) The Pharisees once again speak of their ‘father Abraham.’ But Jesus said, “I know that you are Abraham’s seed, but you seek to kill me because my word has no place in you.” They still persisted with their original line, saying, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.” But soon they pressed the point even further, “We have one Father, even God.” Jesus said, “If God were your Father, you would love me. – – You are of your father the devil, and you perform the lusts of your father.” Notice how, in this passage, the Lord first of all accepts their fleshly descent from Abraham, and then denies their spiritual descent from Abraham.
In Romans 4, Paul takes up the theme once again. “Abraham was not made righteous by works, but by faith” (v.1.)“This faith operated BEFORE he was circumcised.” (v.10) “So Abraham is father to all those who walk in the steps of his faith.” (v.12) “The promise to be heir of the world was not made to Abraham and his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” (v.13) “This was not written for his sake only, but also for us, TO WHOM IT SHALL BE IMPUTED, IF WE BELIEVE ON HIM WHO RAISED JESUS OUR LORD FROM THE DEAD.” (v.23) As the terms “Abraham” and “Israel” have spiritual connotations, so also has the word “Jew”. See Romans 2:28-29. “He is not a Jew which is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh, but he is a Jew which is one inwardly, and circumcision that of the heart, in the SPIRIT and not in the LETTER.” He takes up this theme again when writing to the Philippians (3:3) “We are the ‘circumcision’ who worship God in the spirit, – – and have no confidence in the flesh.”
In connection with this, Paul speaks of those who ‘boast’ about their ethnic origin. See Romans 3:27. “Where is the boasting then? It is excluded. Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also.” No wonder Paul advised Titus to “Avoid foolish questions and genealogies and contentions and strivings about the law, for they are unprofitable and vain.” (Titus3:9) Similarly did he warn Timothy (1 T.1:4) “Neither give heed to myths and endless genealogies which minister questions rather than godly edifying which is in faith.” Indeed, we must now ask why anyone on this earth should worry about his ethnic origin any more, if all the promises are made to those of the family of faith? Remember the words used by our Lord to the woman at the well. “The hour comes and now is when NEITHER IN THIS MOUNTAIN NOR YET AT JERUSALEM shall you worship the Father – – God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:19-24) And if this is true, then He was saying in effect, “If your origin was from the northern kingdom of Israel, (i.e. those whose chief city was Samaria), or from the southernkingdom of Judah (whose chief city was Jerusalem), it matters not any more. Worship will not be centred on the ten tribes or the two, but will be spiritual.”
We had occasion in the first article, on the Atonement, to mention Peter’s vision of the sheet let down from heaven, in which he was to learn the important lesson that all nations were cleansed by the blood of Christ. When Peter visited Cornelius (Acts 10:35) he said “I perceive that God is no respecter of persons but IN EVERY NATION he who fears Him is accepted by Him.” If this was true nearly 2,000 years ago, is it not still true today? How can we maintain that the Jews who are returning to their ancient land are “God’s people” when it is clear that God’s people are those who have the faith of their father Abraham? From the days of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, and from the Day of Pentecost, God has been doing a new work. How then can we desire to see Him return to a more limited work that once obtained through a particular nation, but has now expanded to take in the people of the whole world? Again we must say that God never goes back. He always moves on. Just as the work He is now doing is that much greater than it was in the days of Israel, so in the future it will be greater again. The coming days of the Kingdom will display the riches of God’s grace to an even greater extent than now known or understood. If this were not to be so, then God’s grace would be only a limited quality of the divine nature, but it is not. The best is yet to come.
When we see the Jews returning to the land of Israel, we see a phenomenon whereby a people long scattered are coming together again. But although there is something good in this in one way, we should be careful about how we assess it as the fulfilment of prophecy. The prophecies of Israel are now the property of the ELECT NATION, and must be understood accordingly. This is why John in Rev.2:9 and 3:9 warns us about “those who say they are Jews and are not.” He is speaking spiritually, as indeed the whole of the Book of Revelation is spiritually discerned. Paul showed us how to understand the expressions like “Jew”, and “Israel” in his writings, as we have already explained.
The same lesson may be learned about the other great city of the Bible, the City of Babylon. Many Christians confidently expect that the ancient city of Babylon will be rebuilt by the Iraqis, and that this will become the city of Revelation 18 that will be thrown down. Indeed, a very recent article in the Guardian newspaper, speaks of a mighty endeavour to do just that. To quote, “President Saddam Hussein has signed an open cheque to reconstruct the ancient city and revive the marvellous shape it had before the Persian aggression which destroyed it more than 20 centuries ago.” They plan to make it “the biggest tourist city in the Middle East,” by adding hotels, restaurants, recreation centres, playgrounds, theatres and cinemas. Iraqi archaeologists are using original bricks and specially made modern ones to restore buildings like the 300 foot high ziggurat, etc, etc.
But what, may we ask, is the significance of this? To us it seems that it can only be a part of an enormous Satanic hoax, to try and deflect Christians from thinking spiritually about their faith. When the Iraqis have finished their project, let us suppose that it is supernaturally destroyed. Would there be the world-wide mourning and wretchedness depicted in the 18th of Revelation? Please read it and see.
The Church of God must think spiritually, act spiritually, and worship spiritually, to be pleasing to God. And if the Lord has some special message to teach us about the revival of the nation of Israel, then we should see it as an object lesson, a visible sign of what is happening in the spiritual realm. As with photographic overlays, there are often many facets to God’s working. But for the ELECT NATION there needs to be a single eye, a spiritual eye, on all that the Lord has spoken through His prophets.